In case you haven’t heard, there’s a live-action Barbie movie in the works featuring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling. I’m kidding! Of course, you’ve heard—it’s only been absolutely everywhere for the last several weeks.
The film isn’t being released until next summer, but it’s already primed to be a blockbuster hit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m beyond excited about Barbie. Like every other millennial woman on the planet, I’ll be spending July 21, 2023 squarely in the theater, reveling in all the pink and sparkly nostalgia on screen. After all, I did play with barbie dolls well past the age it was considered socially appropriate. But, with so much public anticipation, are we actually setting the movie up for failure?
The optimist in me wants to say ‘No! Of course not!’
Sure, the famed doll has had its fair share of controversy over the years. Remember when Mattel decided ‘Oreo Barbie’ was a good idea? And not long after that PR disaster, they introduced ‘Mexican Barbie,’ which came with a traditional chiapaneco dress, passport, and chihuahua. Or how about the fact that Barbie’s extremely unrealistic physical proportions work to promote an unhealthy body image in girls? If she were a real woman, her BMI would be so low that she likely wouldn’t be able to menstruate (I guess that explains why we’ve never seen a ‘Period Barbie.’)
Seeing as Barbie is being brought to life by Greta Gerwig, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind Little Women and Lady Bird, I think we can safely assume that this Barbie won’t be nearly as problematic. Gerwig, who co-wrote the screenplay with Marriage Story director Noah Baumbach, is known for her progressive and feminist approach to storytelling.
On top of that, Barbie boasts one hell of an all-star cast. I mean, Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling were practically born to play Barbie and Ken. Just look at all the photos of them on-set! Rollerblading through the beach in bright neon, 80’s-style workout gear. Or strolling down the street in matching his-and-hers cowboy outfits.
Lest you start to worry about this stereotypical blonde, blue-eyed depiction, though, other, more diverse versions of Ken and Barbie will appear in the film. So far, that includes Simu Liu, Ncuti Gatwa, Issa Rae, and Hari Nef. America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon, and Will Ferrell are also on the cast list, but so far, it’s not entirely clear what their roles will be.
And that is one of the biggest issues with the constant hype surrounding Barbie—for all the on-set photos and publicity being generated, we still don’t actually know what the movie is about. On IMBD, it’s described as “a live-action film based on the popular ‘Barbie’ franchise.” Which tells us exactly nothing. Elsewhere, the plot is said to center around a Barbie doll who leaves ‘Barbieland’ and enters the real world. Details which are only slightly more insightful and bring to mind images of Tyra Banks in Life Size.
Other than that, no one really knows what to expect with Barbie. Having a screenplay by Gerwig and Baumbach, I’d be tempted to categorize it as some sort of heartbreaking and tender drama. (And, yes, I know that Marriage Story is technically billed as a Comedy/Drama/Romance, but I failed to see any comedic or romantic undertones in that one.) But a leaked on-set video of Ryan Gosling’s hilariously high-pitched Ken-doll scream would suggest a more satirical take.
While either of those options sounds promising, the fact that people are so excited about it already is risky. Right now, the expectations for Barbie are sky-high, and it could easily fail to live up to all this hype. Every other day we’re getting tiny morsels of Barbie intel. And while I for one love knowing that all female Barbies got together for a slumber party, I do think they could stand to scale it back just a smidge.
Remember what happened with Suicide Squad? Constant stories about Jared Leto’s method acting on-set and an A-list ensemble cast couldn’t stop it from being an absolute critical and box-office flop. Compare that to films like Get Out and This Is The End. Both were unexpectedly amazing, in part because they weren’t expected. We weren’t bombarded with insider information and on-set photos to obsess over for a year prior to the release.
Barbie has the potential to be the next Lego Movie. It also has the potential to be the next Indiana Jones 4. And while I, too, love the photos of Ryan Gosling with bleached hair and hot pink shorts, I think seeing him decked out as Ken will be better on the big screen.
Image: MEGA/GC Images via Getty Images